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snow on crops

Stubble peaks through a dusting of snow in Bureau County, Illinois.

While many Illinois farmers were occupied with paperwork and vehicle maintenance during the turn-of-the-year cold snap, others were looking to fend off damage to their crops and livestock.

Fruit, wheat and livestock producers had some challenges during the extended frigid spell that covered the state from late December through early January. Peach growers, in particular, kept a wary eye on the mercury as it dipped below zero and remained below the freezing mark for two or three weeks.

University of Illinois horticulture educator Elizabeth Wahle has talked to some growers about bud damage on peach trees. Initially, they seem to have dodged serious problems, though in some areas temperatures fell to minus-9.

The lack of snow cover raised concerns. A freeze in the winter of 2013-14 caused significant injury, “but on branches that were lying low in the deep snow, all the buds were fine,” she said.

Still, Wahle is optimistic.

“We had fairly good conditions going into dormancy. It’s not like it was 60 degrees yesterday and today it’s zero,” she said. “They had quite a bit of cool-down to go into dormancy.”

Wahle added apple trees are “incredibly winter hardy. It takes temperatures like -45 for us to have an injury on an apple bud that’s in dormancy.”

Many pastures were already spent, forcing beef producers to scramble for hay supplies. And conditions elsewhere may have an impact on hay supplies.

“Most guys were feeding hay a lot earlier because pastures were out from lack of rain,” said University of Illinois beef specialist Teresa Steckler. “Some guys have been feeding hay since September. The ones I talked to secured it fairly locally.”

But it was not a good year for hay, and drought in the Dakotas and floods in Texas caused producers there to “buy all the hay they could.”

Beef producers are also on the lookout for calving issues. Steckler said it is critical that the calf is properly cleaned.

“If they don’t have something to get into out of the breeze and the momma doesn’t get that calf cleaned off, that calf will die, unfortunately,” she said.

The low temperatures, combined with no snow cover in Southern Illinois, also could affect the winter wheat crop. But Syngenta agronomist Phil Krieg said lack of rain following planting could be more problematic.

“The thing that has me most concerned is lack of moisture. Through the fall, it was a little bit on the dry side,” he said. “I don’t think we got as much tillering as we would like to see. We have very little top growth. I dug up some plants, and felt that the root establishment and crown looked pretty good, but not anything there for moisture.”

A longer cold snap could damage some stands, especially if precipitation levels remain low.

“As long as it’s not too extended a period of this weather, it’s rooted enough to be fine,” Krieg said. “I do worry a little bit with cold like this, very little moisture and wind, because it could blow soil away from the crown and expose the roots. That is my No. 1 concern, how dry the soil is.”

But to be beneficial, rain will have to start slow. Too much at one time could lead to erosion of the loose, dry soil.


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